Table of the Food Garden beds
Leafy vegetables and buds
The vegetable plants in this category come in a wide variety of colours, flavours, shapes and textures. Different parts are consumed, too. We enjoy the leaves of cabbage, lettuce and spinach. We also eat the flower buds of broccoli, cauliflower and artichokes and the fleshy leaf stalks of celery and rhubarb.
We also eat plants’ buds. Asparagus emerges from the ground as spears and Brussels sprouts form in the leaf axils. Plant stems also make their way onto our plates. Kohlrabi is actually a swollen stem and leeks are layers of superposed leaves.
All these vegetables are highly nutritious.
We usually think of fruit as something sweet, eaten as dessert, and vegetables as being served with the main course. From a botanical point of view, though, a fruit is the result of the fertilization of a flower and serves to protect and disseminate the seeds it contains. This means that tomatoes, cucumbers, eggplants, peppers and squash are all fruit, more specifically, fruit vegetables.
Fruit vegetables are high in fibre, vitamins and minerals. There is a tremendous difference in taste between a fruit picked when ripe, still warm from the sun, and a fruit picked unripe and left to ripen afterward. Some fruit vegetables like cucumbers and summer squash are harvested before they are fully mature, however. They all require heat, sunshine and regular watering to grow. Given the rather short growing season in Quebec, gardeners often start some of these plants from seed indoors to transplant them in the garden at the beginning of the summer.
Plants in this large botanical family produce a characteristic fruit called a seed pod. The seeds are eaten on their own or with the pod, at different stages of maturity: raw when they are still tender (beans, green peas, etc.), dried seed (lentils, various peas and beans) can be cooked or fermented (soybeans).
Growers also appreciate all legumes culture for another reason: their roots form an association with bacteria that cause nodules to develop and allow the plant to fix atmospheric nitrogen. These plants improve the soil and reduce reliance on nitrogen fertilizers.
Economical, ecological and nutritious, legumes can be a good substitute for meat for several reasons. In particular, their cultivation is less polluting than industrial breeding. Rich in proteins, they are much lower in fat than meat.
This category of foods has not always been popular. During the Middle Ages and the Renaissance, people thought of bulbs and roots as poor foodstuffs, eaten at best by peasants. However, from a botanical point of view, bulbs, roots and tubers constitute the reserve organs of plants. They are rich in fibres, minerals, and vitamins but also in complex carbohydrates.
In general, we eat the fleshy part of root vegetables, raw or cooked. Some can also be processed to make flour, starch, alcohol, sugar or coffee substitutes. In Europe, table sugar comes mainly from sugar beets, while in Quebec it is made from sugar cane imported from countries to the south of us.
In addition to their nutritional qualities, root vegetables can be stored for a long time. They allow the northern peoples to eat better in winter and occupy a place of choice in the cuisine of Quebec.
In general, it is the fleshy part of root vegetables that is consumed, fresh or cooked. Some vegetables can also be processed in many ways: flour, starch, alcohol, sugar, coffee substitute.
Cereal plants, grown mainly for their seeds (or grain), have provided many of the world’s basic foodstuffs for millennia. We consume them in a variety of ways: bread, pasta, cooked rice, baked goods and more, as well as indirectly in the form of meat, milk and eggs from animals fed on cereals.
The main cereal crops – corn, rice and wheat – together represent over 50% of the world’s food energy intake.
Industrial agriculture uses intensive monoculture to grow cereal crops, exhausting soil, polluting water and depleting plant diversity. To address these major environmental concerns, sustainable agriculture techniques including conservation agriculture, organic farming, agroforestry and permaculture are becoming increasingly popular around the globe.
Cereals are members of the grass family. Some plants belonging to other botanical families, like buckwheat, quinoa and amaranth, are also used as grains – that’s why we call them pseudocereals.
These borders contain a selection of plants whose flowers offer a feast for both the eyes and the palate. The wide variety of colours, textures, fragrances and flavours are used to garnish or perfume different dishes.
Raw, dried, cooked, candied or frozen edible flowers can be served with every course, from appetizers to dessert. Careful, though – not all flowers are edible. Some are naturally toxic or can become poisonous from contact
with toxic products like pesticides. Be sure to eat only species known to be edible and grown for this purpose.
Aromatic plants captivate us with their penetrating, often memory- and emotion-laden fragrances. The scented substances they contain (resins, balms, oils, essences) may be extracted from their roots, seeds or other parts.
Aromatic plants have been used throughout history for both sacred and everyday purposes. They were part of religious and funerary ceremonies as far back as Antiquity, in the form of incense, smoke, unguents and perfumed oils. Over time, they became popular in perfumes and cosmetics, aromatherapy and pharmacology. They are also used in cooking, for flavouring desserts, herbal teas, beverages and a wide variety of dishes.
Note that aromatics are used for their fragrance, and spices for their taste, although the same plant may be used for both purposes.
Since time immemorial, people have used some plants’ leaves, seeds, roots, stems and bulbs to enhance the flavour of food. These plants may also be used to stimulate one’s appetite, aid digestion or preserve food.
Most of the plants grown in the Food Garden are herbs belonging to the Apiaceae family (coriander and parsley) or the Lamiaceae family (basil and marjoram). The vegetables grown in this patch can also be used as flavour enhancers (onions, garlic, shallots).
Growing spice plants is a way of enjoying their flavour, beauty and fragrance. They can be grown in easily accessible containers or incorporated in a flower or vegetable garden. Many of these plants attract pollinating insects.
Forage crops and green manure
Plants grown as fodder for livestock are known as forage crops. Such crops may be legumes (alfalfa, clover, soybeans), grasses (corn, oats) or a combination of both. Animals may be allowed to graze on them or they may be harvested before they mature, and cured or stored in silos or bales for later use.
Many nutrient-rich forage plants are also grown so that they can be ploughed back into the soil and then used as green manure. They return huge quantities of organic material to the soil, where it is available for subsequent crops. This technique, practised as far back as ancient Greece, is also a way of limiting erosion, controlling unwanted weeds, breaking the cycle of pests and diseases and improving soil structure, to increase its biological activity and its productivity.
Oleaginous plants from a large number of botanical families are grown mainly for their oil-rich seeds or fruit. Thus, olive, canola and flax are used to produce vegetable oils with a high level of unsaturated fatty acids that are beneficial to health.
Vegetable oil is also an ingredient in cosmetics, paints, plastics, detergents, biofuels, ink and much more.
Many oleaginous plants are also fed to livestock in the form of meal or seed cakes. For instance, flax seed is added to chicken feed to increase eggs’ omega-3 fatty acid content.
Once an importing country, Canada has become a major producer and exporter of edible oils and oilseeds, such as canola (a Canadian variety of rapeseed), soybeans, flax and sunflowers.
Tobacco is a member of the Solanaceae family, along with tomatoes and potatoes. Its aromatic leaves are used in making cigarettes, cigars and pipe and chewing tobacco. A number of cultivars are also grown as ornamentals.
Tobacco started to be cultivated some 8,000 years ago. Natives were growing it in the Americas long before Europeans arrived. It was part of many ceremonies, where it was smoked, inhaled, chewed, steeped, taken as snuff or offered to the Great Spirits of the terrestrial and celestial worlds.
Some of the earliest settlers in Quebec grew tobacco as a cash crop. Today, as a result of anti-smoking campaigns and freer international trade, very little tobacco is grown here commercially.
Textile plants supply natural fibres used in making such everyday necessities as clothing, fabric, canvas, nets and rope. Some of these plants, like flax, have been known and used for thousands of years. Just think of the linen cloth used to wrap the bodies of the pharaohs discovered in Egyptian tombs.
Cotton, jute and linen are still very popular, but man-made fibres (artificial and synthetic ones) available since the late 19th century have edged out many once-common natural fibres. There is renewed interest in some textile plants, like industrial hemp (non-THC cannabis) and common milkweed, because their unique fibres are suited to numerous applications.
Although natural dye-producing plants are used today mainly for craft purposes, for thousands of years they were the only source of dyestuffs, adding colour to the cloth and garments of the world’s civilizations. It was not until the late 19th century, in fact, that synthetic dyes gradually replaced natural dyestuffs. The first such synthetic product, Perkin’s violet or mauveine, was an aniline dye discovered accidentally by a young British chemist attempting to synthesize the anti-malaria drug quinine.
All parts of a dye-producing plant may be used to obtain dyestuffs. In some cases, the colour may be visible on the plant before it is harvested, while in other cases the colour is revealed only on contact with air, when certain chemicals are added or after fermentation. The final colour may also be determined by the extraction processes and mordants used (substances that fix the dyes).
Since the 19th century, immigrant peoples have been bringing their food cultures to Montréal, bestowing on the city a heritage that can be enjoyably tasted.
The Food Garden offers a gastronomic journey starting in Africa, Asia, Latin America and Eastern Europe. A new kitchen garden is also presented every three years. The goal is to let people know what it’s possible to grow in Montréal despite the harsh winter climate and the short summer season.
African vegetable garden
With its selection of vegetables and herbs, which may be less familiar in Quebec, this garden invites you to explore the rich food heritage of Africa. By following a few guidelines, we can grow several vegetables from Africa in our vegetable gardens.
The black-eyed pea is a legume whose dried seeds can be eaten. An interesting characteristic of the peanut plant is that the fertilized peanut flower buries itself in the ground to produce its pod.
Among fruit vegetables, the scarlet and gboma eggplants are appreciated for both their bitter fruit and edible leaves. Young okra fruit is used to thicken sauces.
Though the tossa jute is most well-known as a textile, it is also a mucilaginous leafy vegetable. The leaves of green amaranth are rich in vitamins and minerals, and are used as an accompaniment to many traditional dishes. Young roselle leaves are consumed like spinach, while the calyxes of the flowers are used to make a refreshing red-coloured drink.
Several cereal plants are grown in Africa, including sorghum, African millet, pearl millet and teff grass.
Asian Vegetables and Herbs
This plot contains vegetables and herbs commonly used in Asian cuisine.
Snake gourds, bitter gourds, angled luffas and Chinese yams climb up the trellises. The borders are filled with lemongrass, Vietnamese coriander, Chinese mustard and holy basil, along with oriental radishes and different varieties of Chinese cabbages.
Asian vegetables and herbs are flavourful, nutritious and simple to prepare and are usually eaten raw or lightly cooked and served with spices and sauces. Many of these exotic species belong to the cabbage(Brassicaceae) family. They grow well in our cool, damp climate.
Latin American vegetable garden
The food heritage in Latin America is very diverse. This garden will lead you to discover a few of the vegetables and herbs grown in this part of the world.
Tomato, squash and chili pepper are among the more familiar fruit vegetables. Less well-known are the tasty orange berries of the dwarf tamarillo, the sticky nightshade’s cherry-red berries, coveted for chutneys and fruit ketchups, and the pepino with its pear and melon-like flavours.
In addition to the popular potato, several other root vegetables are native to Latin America. These include oca, mashua, yacon and yam bean. This latter is generally enjoyed raw.
Herbs and spice plants also abound. Pipicha leaves taste somewhat like cilantro but with lemon or aniseed notes, while Bolivian coriander could be likened to a blend of arugula, garden rue and cilantro.
Eastern European vegetable garden
Traditional Eastern European cuisine typically includes cabbage, potatoes and beets, but many other vegetables, herbs and spice plants form a big part of this region’s food heritage. A selection can be found in this plot.
In the fruit vegetables category, several varieties of tomatoes, sweet peppers and chili peppers originating from Eastern Europe are cultivated. One example is the 'Chervena Chushka' sweet pepper, which is traditionally used to make paprika.
Root parsley, one of the many popular root vegetables in Eastern Europe, combines the taste of common parsley with the texture of celeriac.
Legumes are also frequently consumed. This plot contains traditional varieties of peas and beans, as well as the 'Black Russian' broad bean with purplish-black seeds when dry.
Many herbs and spice plants, such as leaf celery, dill and savory, are also used to enhance the flavour of food. Poppy seeds are a classic flavouring for breads and pastries.
Every year, new selections of vegetables and herbs appear on the market, aiming to meet the needs of producers, processors and consumers. These cultivars present new esthetic, taste-related or cultural qualities.
Our experimental beds group together an assortment of the most interesting new items. There are also heritage species and varieties, rare or unknown, as well as vegetable curiosities.
The plants are put to the test by our horticulturalist during the growing season. Every year, seed producers, market gardeners and chefs evaluate their culinary and organoleptic qualities. Those that stand out through their productivity, their resistance to pests and diseases, their flavor or their ornamental interest may be integrated into other of the Jardin’s beds, or cultivated by producers.
This section of the Food Garden contains a vast collection of species grown for their fruit. The different plots hold some one hundred varieties of trees, shrubs and perennials. At their base, different groundcovers attract beneficial insects and keep the soil cool.
Here you will find traditional berries of all kinds, along with some lesser-known species, including native berries that are becoming increasingly popular with growers in Quebec.
The tremendous variety of colourful fruit offers a feast for the eyes and the taste buds. They are not only delicious, but also packed with vitamins, minerals and antioxidants.